In 2006 adventurer and conservationist Braam Malherbe completed a world first when he and a friend ran 4 200 kms along the entire Great Wall of China in just under 100 days. For six days a week they ran more than a marathon a day through some of the world’s most extreme weather conditions. How did they achieve this? Through passion, purpose and a dream.
Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to act in spite of it
It’s the ability to lead with courage and purpose. Success is great but what is greater is significance. What is the legacy we leave? You cannot expect someone in poverty who is focused on a scrap of bread and lives hand to mouth to be significant. But if you’re successful, you have an obligation to be significant. And that takes courage, because it involves change — the very thing us humans resist the most.
People don’t buy what you do — they buy why you do it
A leader has to have a big vision; the ability to communicate that dream to managers, staff and customers in such a way that they’re so captivated that they want to be a part of this journey; but most of all, a leader has to act and lead by example.
Dream big, plan well, minimise risks
That’s the foundation for great, life-changing acts. But it all starts with the dream. Neil Armstrong dreamt of landing on the moon when he was a teenager. NASA wasn’t even thinking about that yet. One night looking up at the moon, he asked his dad if people would ever walk on it. His dad replied: Would you like to? He answered ‘yes’. And so the dream was born, followed by goals that started the process to reach that dream.
I used to dream big. I do again now, but there was a big gap in the middle
When I was 15 I was asked by a ranger at a wilderness leadership school what I was going to do to be an asset to this planet. I was floored. I was struggling to get through school, now I had to be an asset to the planet as well? But it got me thinking, and ultimately set a dream in motion. I heard from my dad that the Langebaan lagoon was under threat.
The Wildlife Society needed R15 000 to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment. I was just a kid. What could I do? I realised I could run.
I’d never been a great athlete, but I knew that running the 532 kms from Plettenburg Bay to Cape Town would raise awareness, capture attention, and raise money. I achieved my goal with a friend in 11 days. The purpose behind what I did made all the difference.
Many, many years later a friend asked me to run the Great Wall of China with him. He wanted to do it because it had never been done. I agreed, but only if we had a purpose beyond ego. Ego will only carry you so far. You need a dream, and it has to be sacrosanct.
We surrounded ourselves with a strong team, including a psychologist and Professor Tim Noakes to help us with our diet and training.
Before the run, Noakes was interviewed about our chances of success. His words were simple and to the point: The probability that something will happen to stop them is so high, that the chances of success are basically zero.
But he didn’t know about the underlying purpose to raise money for Operation Smile. The physical challenge in an event like this is not where the outcome is decided. It’s mental. And we had a purpose bigger than ourselves. Because of that, we completed our goal and raised R2 million for children in need — and hopefully proved to children and adults alike that dreams can come true.
Planning and execution was critical to our success
We still needed to be physically prepared, even if our mental strength would ultimately be the deciding factor. We started by running 15 kms every morning for a few months, then morning and evening, then morning, lunch and evening, until we’d built up to a steady 45 kms a day, day after day.
If you are purpose-driven and have significance, you can do almost anything
Your mind can even heal your body. I snapped the ACL in my knee almost as we began, and yet I did the entire thing. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between what is and isn’t real, which is why nightmares can feel real, and how virtual reality works. What you believe for long enough becomes your reality. I believed we would finish.
If the mind can be convinced of the value of the task, there is little that isn’t possible
So what is the value of your task? My ultimate dream is to be the greatest asset that I can be to the planet. Every one of us has great power. It’s about leading and embracing change — it’s about how we face a crisis, because there are always crises. But in every crisis is an opportunity if you harness the danger.